Louisiana fishermen and shrimpers, joined by dozens of climate activists, circled the waters of the Calcasieu River on Wednesday within sight of a conference, featuring oil and gas executives and public officials as presenters, in order to protest the buildout of liquified natural gas export terminals in Southwest Louisiana — which they say threatens their livelihoods and way of life. 

“A Category 5 hurricane causes less destruction than this,” Travis Dardar, an indigenous fisherman and shrimper from Cameron, Louisiana who helped lead the convoy, said Wednesday, referring to the buildout. “We can rebuild after a hurricane. There’s no coming back from this – this is game over.”

The fishermen demonstrated with organizers from throughout the Gulf of Mexico region on Wednesday, positioning their boats within view of the Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino, where the first day of the Americas LNG & Gas Summit & Exhibition was taking place. 

Featured as speakers at the “leading international conference and exhibition for the LNG, Gas & Energy Industry in the Americas” on Wednesday were Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La, Lieutenant Governor Billy Nungesser, and Nicholas Hunter, Mayor of Lake Charles. Octávio Simões, president and CEO of Tellurian Inc., a natural gas company based in Houston, Texas, and Najla Jamoussi, a director at Cheniere Energy Inc., an LNG company based in Houston, Texas, were also scheduled to present on Wednesday. 

Cassidy, for his part, touted his participation in the conference.

“Spoke to the LNG Americas Summit about the importance of this industry, not just for jobs in Louisiana and across the nation, but for the entire world,” Cassidy said in a press release. “The industry impacts our economic security, the security of different nations, and lowers carbon emissions.”

But James Hiatt, former oil and gas worker and current Southwest Louisiana coordinator with the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, a nonprofit opposed to the LNG buildout, panned the presence of Cassidy and other public officials at the summit.

“It’s mind boggling that they’re over there celebrating and our Senator Bill Cassidy wants to get up there this morning, and even on the local news, tell us that LNG is the savior for this area,” Hiatt said Wednesday. “That’s not a savior we need. That ain’t no savior.”

Cassidy, Hunter, and Tellurian did not respond to requests for comment in time for this article’s publication. Nungesser’s office responded, but did not provide a comment for the story.

Natural gas is primarily composed – to the tune of 70% to 90% – of methane: a powerful greenhouse gas that’s considerably more potent than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere, although it dissipates more quickly. Methane gas is another name for natural gas. 

Chief among the fishermen’s concerns animating their participation in the convoy include what they describe as the permanent, irreparable damage to the ecosystem the construction of LNG terminals has already caused, and the additional destruction that may be in the offing, given their potential expansion and proliferation.  

Dardar has suffered from consistently declining fish yields, he said while piloting one of the boats in the convoy. Not only does he live in the shadow of the Venture Global’s Calcasieu Pass facility, (which has, according to a report produced by the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, discharged toxic flares since it began operations in January), he also lives within a mere few hundred feet of Venture Global’s proposed Venture Global CP2 LNG project. 

Venture Global told Dardar that the company didn’t have to buy him out – that it could instead build around his property, Dardar said Wednesday. Venture Global did not respond to a request for comment in time for this article’s publication. 

The project “runs right through all the fishing grounds,” Dardar said. “These are fishing grounds where people fish, [that have] provided for families for generations, and generations and generations.”

Protestors gathered on the Calcasieu River on Wednesday, Nov. 2 to protest LNG buildout in the region.

Dardar has also been disappointed with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries agency’s role in studying the fisheries from a pre-construction perspective, he said Wednesday.  

Patrick Banks, assistant secretary of fisheries at LDWF, told The Lens on Thursday that while there has been a reduction in the proliferation of flounder, oysters and speckled trout in the area, it’s hard to draw a causal relationship to LNG construction. 

Cameron and Calcasieu Parishes are currently home to three LNG export terminals: Sabine Pass, Calcasieu Pass and Cameron LNG. There are 25 proposed LNG export terminals that could become operational throughout the country, 12 of which would be located in Louisiana, according to a report published by the Environmental Integrity Project, a nonprofit environmental watchdog group. The Louisiana projects alone could emit some 57 million tons of greenhouse gasses each year, according to the group’s data. 

The U.S. became the world’s largest exporter of natural gas in the first half of 2022. Cheniere Inc., which owns Sabine Pass, is the country’s largest exporter. 

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has disrupted the international market for natural gas, especially in Europe. According to the International Energy Agency, market adjustments to the volatility, namely surging prices, have resulted in demand destruction in certain importing regions. The IEA also recently published a report showing that global demand for natural gas will likely plateau by the end of the decade. 

Utilities like Entergy Louisiana LLC, the state’s largest utility, have blamed the vicissitudes in the natural gas market for skyrocketing bills customers have faced in recent months. 

Continuing to export natural gas abroad only contributes to those higher prices, Hiatt said Wednesday, and speaks to the underlying issue of fossil fuel attachment.

“It’s actually against our own interests to be shipping out our natural resources for the profit of the few to go overseas,” he said. “We’re paying electricity bills through the roof, the Europeans are paying electricity bills through the roof. And all of that has to do with our dependency on fossil fuels.”

Strong opinions

The conference lasted for two days in total, and featured various industry executives, academics and others, including an official of the Latvian government, as speakers. One of the presenters, John Davies, recently courted controversy by comparing the critics of methane gas to Adolf Hitler. Davies, who is the principal of a public affairs firm, did not respond to a request for comment.

The ideas discussed at the summit are “complex and often provoke strong opinions on all sides,” Tanya Crossick, vice president of energy at DMG Events – the groups that hosted the summit – told The Lens via email.

The organization was aware of the protest and is “proud of the role of the Americas LNG & Gas Summit & Exhibition as a platform for debate and partnerships at a crucial time for the global gas & LNG sector,” she said. “We wholeheartedly respect the right of protestors to express their views in a peaceful manner.”

Some protestors were able to access the hotel during the summit as part of their demonstration, but were not formally invited to participate in the programing. An unidentified individual called the U.S. Coast Guard on the convoy, James Hague, a spokesman for the Coast Guard, told The Lens. That individual was “concerned that the boats looked overloaded,” he said. 

For her part, Amy Miller, manager of local government and community affairs for Cheniere, told The Lens that the company knows that “Louisiana’s coast is a treasure worth protecting,” and has worked with groups to, among other things, protect fisheries and build artificial reefs. 

But for the fishermen and organizers from groups like the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, Healthy Gulf and the Sierra Club who gathered Wednesday to oppose methane gas export terminals in the region, companies like Cheniere represent the problem, not the solution. 

“People gonna rise like the water, gonna shut the LNG down,” they sang from their boats. “Hear the voices of my great-granddaughters say, ‘Keep it in the ground.’”

Joshua Rosenberg

Joshua Rosenberg covers the environmental beat for The Lens. Joshua is a Report for America corps member, and is working in collaboration with the Mississippi River Basin Ag and Water Desk. Prior to joining...